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Medical journal features study on Alzheimer’s

Two USF professors teamed up to shed some light on the mysterious and degenerative disease known as Alzheimer’s, and were recently given the chance to co-edit a special edition of the journal DNA and Cell Biology that focused on the aforementioned disease.

David Morgan, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and Kenneth Ugen, an associate professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, were given the opportunity following more than a year of groundbreaking research on the subject of Alzheimer’s.

“Our prior publication on the details of our research received a lot of attention,” Morgan said. “And the journal was trying to break into areas beyond its traditional history of topics, so they looked to us.”

The journal, which was released in January, featured numerous experts on the field of Alzheimer’s in order to convey the most current breakthroughs and discoveries directly related to the disease.

“We were asked to gather all of the published papers and studies done by an array of researchers in the field and put together a summary,” Ugen said.

Their study, which gained attention that resulted in more than a year’s worth of research, was about a protein called amyloid and its effects on transgenic, or genetically engineered, mice. Amyloid is the protein that builds up in an Alzheimer patient’s brain, subsequently resulting in memory loss and other complications.

“When our study was published in December of 2000, we created quite a mound of press for ourselves,” Ugen said.

Morgan said the research seemed to open new doorways for scientific research and vaccination methods related to Alzheimer’s.

“These mice that we generate here at USF are designed to develop an amyloid buildup in the brain at about mid-life that mirrors that of an Alzheimer’s patient,” Morgan said.

However, Morgan said the amyloid build up is not large enough to cause the body to produce antibodies to fight the protein. So instead, the amyloid protein is used as a vaccine, and enough is injected so that the immune system produces antibodies to disrupt the build up of amyloid in the brain.

“This has been shown to halt memory loss in these mice,” Morgan said.

Morgan and Ugen have worked on studies together in the past and decided to be partners, bringing their research together again.

“We saw this Alzheimer’s study and teamed up because the opportunity presented itself to answer some questions,” Morgan said. “This was a partnership of equals because in science you have to put multiple minds together to accomplish things.”

Morgan and Ugen said although preliminary tests that apply the new vaccine on human Alzheimer patients have not been successful, they are hopeful for the breakthroughs that may lie ahead and their involvement in finding them.

“This is a novel way of, perhaps, attacking this disease,” Ugen said. “If we can work on adapting the research toward treating humans, it definitely has potential.”

Contact Nick Margiasso at